How I Need To See Him

Once upon a time there was a widowed mother whose only family member was her son, and she loved him with all her heart. The boy grew up, and as a young man entered the army and went off to war. One day the woman received the tragic news that her son had died in battle. She was heartbroken and had no one to console her. Having a deep faith in God, she prayed, “O Lord, I need to see him again—just for five minutes; please let me see my son one more time.” The Lord heard her prayer and sent an angel to answer it. The angel appeared and told her “Through the great mercy of God, you will see your son for five more minutes—but remember, your son died as a grown man. There are thirty years of his life to choose from. How would you like to see him?” The mother paused and wondered how to answer. The angel suggested, “Would you like to see him as a soldier dying heroically at his post? Would you like to see him again on the day he graduated from high school or college with the highest possible honors? Would you like to see him as a baby at your breast?” The mother considered her answer carefully, and said slowly, “No, I would like to have him for five minutes as he was one day when, at the age of six, he ran in from the garden to ask my forgiveness for being naughty. He was so small, and so unhappy he had displeased me, and when I said I forgave him, he flew into my arms so hard that he almost knocked me over. That’s how I need to see him again; that’s the memory I will always treasure” (James Feehan, Story Power, p. 88).

This grieving mother wanted above all to recapture the one moment her son needed her the most, the moment she was able to help him by being merciful. There can be great joy in being able to forgive, and as Jesus said, the desire to forgive us and save us is why God sent His Son into the world. If we seek God’s mercy, we will give joy to our heavenly Father, and we will be able to share in this joy ourselves.

If we knew nothing about God other than the fact that He existed, and we had to try to imagine what He’s like, we would probably decide that He loves beauty and righteousness; the goodness and order of the created world would support such a conclusion. Based on that, we would also logically conclude that God must hate wickedness and that He therefore punishes human sinfulness. This too would be a reasonable assumption. What we would probably not be able to imagine, however, is that God is also merciful and eager to forgive our sins; this amazing aspect of His divine nature is something we could only discover through His act of revealing it. The readings for the 4th Sunday of Lent tell us that God has in fact revealed this wonderful truth. In the Book of Chronicles (2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23) describes how the Chosen People’s continued sinfulness led to their downfall; God allowed their enemies to triumph over them, destroying their holy city of Jerusalem and leading them into captivity for many years. That a just God would act in such a way is not surprising; what is surprising, from a human perspective, is that afterwards He acted mercifully in releasing and restoring His people. The Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia—a foreigner and a pagan—to allow the Jewish people to return home and rebuild their Temple and their city. However, this historic act of benevolence and mercy was a mere foreshadowing of what God was planning to do to bring about our eternal happiness. As Jesus (John 3:14-21) explained to Nicodemus, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” No one could have expected this; as St. Paul (Ephesians 2:4-10) says, this act of redemption occurred even as we were spiritually dead in our sinfulness—a time when, logically speaking, humanity should have expected to be condemned, not saved. Nevertheless, Jesus assures us that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but that the world might be saved through Him.” God loves us most when we, in our sinfulness and weakness, have the greatest need for Him.

When I was growing up, I attended my parish grade school at St. Clement in Romeo, and there was a display case in the hallway where a different Scripture quote was artistically highlighted each week. Even today, over sixty years later, I remember one of them very clearly—a quote from our reading from St. Paul: “We are God’s work of art” (though the translation we just heard uses the word “handiwork”). This memorable passage also says we are created for a life of good deeds—an idea like Our Lord’s teaching in the Gospel that those who live in truth freely come into God’s light, so that their good works may clearly be seen as having their origin in God. As redeemed sinners, this is how we are called to live; our Heavenly Father invites us to believe not only in His love, but also in His eager willingness to forgive us. This means that, rather than putting on an act to deceive other people or denying or ignoring our faults and failures, we can afford to be honest with God and with ourselves.

Instead of living in spiritual blindness and denying our sins, we must humbly and consistently confess our sinfulness to God, allowing Him to point out our faults and then use His grace to overcome them. This sort of honesty allows us to experience the joy of His forgiveness. Because we are precious in His sight, we don’t need to fear confessing our sins to Him, whether in our hearts or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our deliberate violations of His law do offend the Lord, but nothing delights Him more than having us sincerely repent and run back to His arms of mercy. As redeemed sinners, God also wants us to experience the peace and freedom that comes from forgiving those who’ve sinned against us; these persons need our forgiveness, even if they don’t realize or admit it, and when we respond to this need, we become like our Father in Heaven.

If we are truly to be God’s handiwork, or work of art, while living in the light of Christ, we must humbly, honestly, and confidently repent of our sins again and again, turning back to God as often as necessary; we must be like a sorrowful but trusting six-year-old child running into his mother’s arms. Our reception by God will not be a grudging one, but one filled with love and joy beyond our imagining—and thus, it will be our good fortune to share ever more deeply in the gift of salvation.

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